In 2014, I was fortunate to marry into a family that owns a nice-sized chunk of the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. Spotsy had, by that time, come to be my favorite battlefield, so marrying into a part of the battlefield was a crazy, lucky fluke. As I tell people, I do love my wife for more than her earthworks, but I’ll be honest, she has very nice earthworks.
The property is now known as Stevenson Ridge, an 87-acre parcel that sits near the exit of Spotsylvania National Battlefield. At the time of the battle, it was part of a 300-acre plantation owned by 37-year-old Francis C. Beverley, who lived in a house called Whig Hill on the south side of what is now modern Route 208.
During the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the IX Corps of the Union army occupied the ground, which probably explains why it went unpreserved for so long. Nobody cares about Ambrose Burnside, who was affable but spectacularly mediocre. His troops shifted position take part in the May 12 fight against the Mule Shoe and, after that fight, the V Corps shifted from the far right of the battlefield to occupy the IX Corps’s former works.
Stevenson Ridge gets its name from Brig. Gen. Thomas Greely Stevenson, who was killed on 9 May behind a ridge line right across the street. On a different battlefield, a fallen Union division commander might get a mortuary monument or upside-down cannon, but again, Stevenson was with the IX Corps, which tends to get more derision than recognition.
My in-laws are wonderful people who appreciate the value of history, but they aren’t necessarily Civil War-minded folks. They knew they were sitting on a gem, but it wasn’t until I married into the family that we really began to explore the property’s Civil War history. That task has become an ongoing project for me, and it has been super exciting to have my own battlefield to explore, research, develop, and interpret.
As part of that process, I decided to write a short booklet about the property’s history and its Civil War story.
Stevenson Ridge includes a bed-and-breakfast on site, consisting of several historical cabins and houses that my father-in-law has restored, and we get a lot of guests who asked about the history. The booklet serves as a resource for those curious guests. It pays particular attention to Stevenson’s death, it explains our extensive earthworks and covered ways, and includes information about the property’s other Civil War connections. There’s also a map for our trail system that allows visitors to see our cultural resources. The traces of the bloody struggle are written on the landscape itself.
As I worked on the booklet, I talked to Ted Savas about the possibility of making it look like an ECW book as a way to take advantage of the branding we had developed. He gave me the OK and even offered to make the book available on his end as an e-book, which has given us extra reach.
In 2016, we released Traces of the Bloody Struggle: The Civil War at Stevenson Ridge, Spotsylvania Court House, complete with one of Ian Hughes’s fantastic covers. The cover image features a Civil War painting by my father-in-law’s late brother and depicts a one-on-one cavalry clash—fitting because the first action on the property, on May 8, 1864, took place between cav.
A hard-copy version of Traces is otherwise only available through Stevenson Ridge, primarily for visitors on the property, although I take the book with me when I go out on speaking engagements, too. (See below for ordering information.)
Since publishing the book, I’ve done more research on the property’s history, on Stevenson and his death, and on a number of the units who once occupied the property. Some of that research has appeared here on the blog. At some point, when we run out of the first print edition, I’ll update the booklet and include some of that new information in our second edition.
In the meantime, I’m proud to have helped preserve and interpret another part Spotsylvania‘s history. I’m always delighted to share the story and show off the great piece of battlefield I was lucky enough to marry into!
Traces of the Bloody Struggle: The Civil War at Stevenson Ridge, Spotsylvania Court House
by Chris Mackowski
Savas Publishing, 2016
Hard Copy: Traces of the Bloody Struggle: The Civil War at Stevenson Ridge, Spotsylvania Court House is available for $10 + $3 shipping. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kindle: Click here to order.